One of my goals every year is to travel to at least one place I’ve never been, and this year I wasted no time. Since I’ve been to Tokyo a handful of times, I started researching places that we could visit that were within a couple hours of Tokyo by train. After seeing so many heavenly photos, glowing reviews and recommendations from friends, I decided that Hakone had to be the place. It’s a beautiful area located at the foot of Mount Fuji and it’s well known for having amazing onsen, or Japanese hot springs. Visitors from around Japan and all over the world come here to relax, enjoy traditional Japanese food, and take in the beautiful sights. And that’s exactly what we did!
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa which is conveniently located in Gora and had its own onsen right in the hotel which was so nice for relaxing right before bed. It also had three restaurants right inside the hotel…in other words it was hard to leave since we had everything right there! We stayed in Hakone for a total of two nights and two days, which for us was the perfect amount of time. Any shorter and I think we would have missed out on some of the amazing things that Hakone has to offer.
No matter what season you visit Hakone, there’s lots to do. I actually loved going during the winter because it’s far less crowded (so I’m told) and it’s nice to sit in the hot springs when there’s a chill in the air. It reminds me of going skiing growing up and then winding down in the jacuzzi. Nighttime in Hakone is for lounging and relaxing. The first night after dinner Holden and I looked at each other at the same time and said, “what do we do?!” and laughed because to be honest we were probably both a little bored coming from the fast-paced energy of Tokyo. But after that first evening we embraced the leisurely pace and realized that slowing down the clock is exactly what people come to Hakone for. Here are my top six other things you must do while in Hakone, Japan:
1. Hakone Shrine
Hakone Shrine sits at the foot of Mount Hakone and right on the shore of Lake Ashi. In addition to the shrine itself, it’s well known for its gorgeous red floating torii gates (pictured above) which are a sight to be seen. I had seen these in photos prior to our trip, but believe me when I say that no photo could do them justice. If you’re an avid photo taker, I recommend going early in the morning or later in the evening for the best light.
2. Open Air Hot Springs
In Japanese culture, people have been enjoying onsen for centuries. Here’s how it works — a wealth of hot spring water is pooled deep below the surface of the Japanese archipelago, which is made up of more than 6,800 islands. As legend has it, the natural hot springs had healing powers — warriors recovering from their wounds after a long soak, gods guiding samurai to springs purported to cure 40,000 different types of illnesses and disorders.
So I didn’t emerge from the onsen with zero wrinkles or a whole new lease on life or anything, but I will say I felt pretty darn stress friend my skin felt soft for days.
Our hotel had a beautiful indoor onsen, but I knew that I wanted to experience an open-air onsen as well so we went to one called Mori No Yu. It’s a traditional onsen which means men and women bath completely separately, no tattoos are allowed and no bathing suits can be worn. We must have gone on a slow day because I had the entire place to myself and it was heaven on earth. There were at least eight different pools and tubs I could lounge in, so it’s easy to let an hour or two float by.
3. Dinner at the Hyatt Regency
Each night before we went to bed, we would grab a couch in front of the fire in the Hyatt Regency living room and sit there for hours talking and reading and they even have board games to play. By our last night we were craving some American comfort food so we ordered off the living room menu and had caesar salads and cheeseburgers and it totally hit the spot. The Hyatt’s restaurants are open to anyone so even if you’re not staying there I would highly recommend checking it out.
4 & 5. Hakone Ropeway and Lake Ashi Cruise
Lake Ashi, also known as Ashinoko Lake, will literally take your breath away. And what better way to take it all in than by setting sail straight through it? When you visit Hakone, I’d recommend buying the Hakone Freepass. Confusingly enough it’s not at all free, but you do save quite a bit because it allows you to ride the Hakone Tozan Train, the Hakone Tozan Cable Car, the Hakone Ropeway, the Hakone Sightseeing cruise, and all of the buses in the area. With the Freepass in hand, I’d highly recommend riding the Hakone Ropeway and the Lake Ashi Cruise which takes you on a boat that looks like a Japanese pirate ship, and if that’s not reason enough to do it I don’t know what is.
6. Hakone Open-Air Museum
The Hakone Open-Air Museum is a must. It features works by both modern and contemporary sculptors including Picasso, Henry Moore, Taro Okamoto and more. The sculptures are all situation outside in the nature of Hakone, and you don’t want to miss this museum.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other Hakone travel questions!